Fighting Fire With Fire?

New Weapons Sales and Military Aid Will Not Bring Peace and Stability to the Middle East

The Bush administration's recent announcement of tens of billions in new high-tech weapons and military aid for Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Gulf States was offered as the solution to many of the problems facing the region. But, critical and worthy goals like stability in Iraq, a nuclear-free Iran and peace in the Middle East cannot be achieved through the barrel of a gun, the point of a precision missile or the belly of a fighter plane.

The policy amounts to fighting fire with fire-- introducing more weapons into a highly volatile and militarized region in the name of peace.

The announcement also shows a grim determination to ignore the lessons of history. Colombia, Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Iraq in the 1980s, the Afghan mujahedeen in the 1970s-in each of these instances U.S. weapons, military aid and training have undermined security, been used against civilian populations, absorbed resources better devoted to human development and sowed the seeds of future conflicts.

The Bush administration is making a grave mistake, and Congress must use its power to block these weapons transfers.

It is not yet possible to put an exact figure on the arms and aid packages being offered. However, we know that Egypt is slated to receive an increase in military aid to a total of $13 billion over 10 years, and that Israel will receive a 25% increase in military aid to $3 billion a year for the next 10 years.

Arms offers to Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states could equal another $20 billion. Among the weapons systems being proffered are: air-to-air guided missiles, Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs)-- a satellite guidance kit that turns dumb bombs into precision weapons--fighter plane upgrades and new naval vessels.

While Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asserts that billions in arms transfers will "bolster the forces of moderation," most of the recipient nations are undemocratic and all have "serious" problems safe-guarding the human rights of their citizens.

Of the eight nations, only Israel is a democracy where "the law provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully" according to the State Department's 2006 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. But, the report acknowledges, "Palestinians in the occupied territories are not citizens of the country and do not enjoy the rights of citizens."

In Egypt-- despite recent elections-- the State Department found "limitations on the right of citizens to change their government" including "a state of emergency, in place almost continuously since 1967." The rest of the countries are monarchies or sultanates where-in the words of the State Department's annual report-- there is "no right to peacefully change the government."

Weapons transfers to nations with records of gross violations of human rights run counter to U.S. policy. Section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act was amended in 1976 to read: "It is the policy of the United States, in accordance with its international obligations as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations and in keeping with the constitutional heritage and traditions of the United States, to promote and encourage increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.... It is further the policy of the United States that, except under circumstances specified in this section, no security assistance may be provided to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights."

Despite U.S. law, U.S. military assistance continues to go to countries that brutally oppress their own populations. According to the 2006 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, "serious" problems with regards to human rights include: torture (Qatar, Egypt and Israel), unlawful killing (Kuwait), flogging and other forms of corporal punishment (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates), and abuse of women, including female genital mutilation (Egypt).

And the list goes on.... Where is the moderation that will be bolstered by more weapons and military strength?

Resources for More Information

"Exporting Instability," William D. Hartung, The Nation, cover date September 10, 2007

"The United States Should Not Send Potentially destabilizing Weapons to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY, 9th district) announces a bipartisan coalition of more than 100 members of Congress who will oppose weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, August 2, 2007

"Backgrounder on Proposed U.S. Arms Sale to the Middle East" Carah Ong and Travis Sharp, Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, August 9, 2007

* Figures for FMF and FMS come from "Foreign Military Sales, Foreign Military Construction Sales and Military Assistance Facts," Published by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) and online at . The 2006 version of this report is not yet available but data on Foreign Military Financing for 2006 and 2007 as well as future requests is contained in the Congressional Budget Justification for Fiscal year 2008, online at

** These "Arms Sales Notifications" are published by the DSCA and available on their website at

Frida Berrigan is a senior program associate at the Arms and Security Project of the New America Foundation.

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